It’s not all about the West End you know! Of course… You knew that already. Theatre goers in London are spoilt for choice when it comes to world class performance art. And you don’t even need to navigate the joys of Leicester Square!
We’ve put together out list of the best small and independent theatres in London. If you’re looking for some inspiration for a niche theatre production, check them out and see whats on.
The Old Vic
The Old Vic is one of London’s oldest theatres, founded in 1818. The history of this building is rich with world-renowned performances and productions that have been seen by millions.
The current mission of The Old Vic is to make theatre accessible to everyone. This means they put on innovative new works as well as classic plays, making them an ideal place for families with children to visit together or couples looking for something different from their usual night out at the theatre.
Their diverse range of productions appeal equally well to both children and adults alike: you’ll find everything from Shakespearean comedies like Twelfth Night or As You Like It through musicals such as Annie Get Your Gun right up until modern classics like Angels In America which won Tony Awards for Best Play (1993) & Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role – Drama Desk Award Nomination (1994).
The Young Vic
The Young Vic, established in 1971, has long-standing commitment to showcasing the work of emerging playwrights. Its focus on creating a space for bold and innovative works has resulted in a diverse range of productions that appeal to both children and adults.
Like the Old Vic, the Young Vic’s mission is “to make great theatre accessible to everyone”. It achieves this by offering affordable tickets at all times; making sure productions are available on radio or TV; providing free access for those with disabilities; encouraging young people from disadvantaged backgrounds through its outreach programme The Access All Areas Scheme (AAS); providing free tickets for school groups during term time (subject to availability).
The Donmar Warehouse
The Donmar Warehouse is a small theatre company located in the heart of London’s theatre district. The company was founded in 1977 and its mission statement is “to produce new plays which reflect the society around us”. Its commitment to staging productions with a focus on female-led stories has made it one of London’s most popular theatres for women and girls, who often feel underrepresented in mainstream theatre.
The Donmar also has an excellent track record when it comes to producing new works; recent successes include Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Three Sisters (2014), written by Chekhov but set in present day Russia; Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female Julius Caesar (2012); David Hare’s Skylight (2015) starring Carey Mulligan; and Richard Bean’s adaptation of The Ladykillers by Graham Linehan (2004).
With its intimate setting and diverse range of productions that appeal both children and adults alike – including plays like Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical – this independent venue offers something for everyone!
The Almeida Theatre
The Almeida Theatre was established in 1980 by the actor William Gaskill, who wanted to create an intimate space where new and innovative plays could be staged. Since then, the theatre has become known for its commitment to producing bold and innovative works that challenge audiences’ expectations of what theatre can be.
The Almeida regularly stages productions that explore complex political and social issues through an experimental lens: recent productions have included plays about Brexit (Exit Brexit), women’s rights (The Female Gaze), climate change (The Great Acceleration) and mental health stigma (Funny Cow).
It also hosts workshops designed specifically for young people aged 16-25 years old – these include one called ‘Acting Up’, which helps young people develop confidence through acting techniques; another called ‘Playwrighting’, which gives participants access to professional writers who help them develop their own scripts; plus there’s a summer school where students can learn about everything from directing techniques to set design skills!
The Orange Tree Theatre
The Orange Tree Theatre, in Richmond, was founded in 1971, and has been producing new works ever since. It’s commitment to this mission has resulted in a diverse range of productions that appeal to both children and adults alike.
The theatre’s intimate setting allows for thought-provoking and challenging works to be staged with ease, making it an ideal place for those who want their theatre experience to be more than just entertainment.
The Finborough Theatre
The Finborough Theatre is one of London’s best small theatres, based in West London near West Brompton. It was established in 1980, and its focus on producing new works has helped it to become one of the most important venues for new writing in the capital.
The theatre also has a commitment to developing new talent, which means that you can see some amazing performances from actors who are just starting out or looking for their big break. The Finborough has staged productions that appeal both children and adults alike, with shows such as The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.
In addition to staging productions that explore complex political and social issues through storytelling techniques such as puppetry or dance; this theatre will also give you an insight into how these issues affect real people’s lives through their outreach programmes where they involve local communities in their work by inviting them onto stage during performances so everyone can get involved!
Although it’s in the heart of the West End of London, the Soho Theatre offers a diverse line up of independent theatre, cabaret, music and stand up comedy. As it’s location suggests, you’ll often find both cutting edge theatre productions and well known stars taking their one-person show or performance to this edgy venue.
And with the Soho Theatre brand becoming a success in its own right, they’ve now also opened a Soho Theatre in Walthamstow. And yes, it is still called the Soho Theatre.
The Lyric Hammersmith
The Lyric Hammersmith, founded in 1888 and one of London’s oldest theatres, has a long history of producing classic plays and musicals. It is also committed to developing new talent by commissioning work from emerging writers as well as supporting them through its Young Writers Programme.
The theatre’s diverse range of productions appeal to both children and adults: there are family shows such as The Gruffalo (which won an Olivier Award for Best Musical) as well as more adult-oriented works like The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui which won an Olivier Award for Best Play.
The Lyric Hammersmith also stages productions that explore complex political and social issues such as immigration in the UK with The Jungle Book or gender identity in society with Boy Meets Girl (which won an Olivier Award for Best New Musical).
The Bush Theatre
The Bush Theatre is one of London’s most respected small theatres, based in Shepherds Bush (of course). It has a focus on producing new works and developing new talent, which can be seen in its diverse range of productions that appeal to both children and adults. The theatre has an intimate setting that allows audiences to feel part of the action on stage.
The Bush Theatre is committed to staging thought-provoking and challenging works that often reflect current events or social issues. The theatre also hosts a number of festivals throughout the year, including “Women Playwrights Festival” (March), “Young Writers Festival” (June) and “Summer Shorts Festival” (August).
The Old Red Lion Theatre
The Old Red Lion Theatre is a gem of a venue, located in the heart of Islington. It’s been running since 1979 and has become known for its commitment to producing new works by emerging writers. The theatre also focuses on developing new talent, with its Young People’s Theatre Company providing opportunities for young people aged 11-25 from across London to perform on stage or behind the scenes.
The theatre produces an eclectic range of productions that appeal both children and adults alike; they’ve staged everything from Shakespeare adaptations (like Macbeth) through to modern classics (like Deathtrap) as well as original plays like The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla which won Best New Play at last year’s Olivier Awards.
Their intimate setting makes it easy for audiences to get involved with what’s happening on stage – there are no bad seats here! And if you’re looking for thought-provoking drama then this is your place: we recommend checking out their current production The Glass Menagerie which explores themes such as poverty, mental illness and gender identity through Tennessee Williams’ iconic characters Amanda Wingfield (played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) and Tom Wingfield (played by John Bowe).
The Park Theatre
The Park Theatre is a relatively new theatre, established in 2013 and just a short walk from Finsbury Park. It’s commitment to producing new works has led it to become one of London’s most important venues for new writing and talent development.
The theatre also hosts a diverse range of productions that appeal both children and adults alike, including musicals and comedies but also dramas that explore complex political and social issues such as immigration or sexual identity.
On Kilburn High Road, you’ll find this theatre and cinema which was converted to a theatre (from a meeting hall for the Friendly Society of Foresters) in 1980. Today it is a thriving cultural hub for this part of North London, attracting a regular line up of cutting edge theatre.
With a cinema on-site, the Kiln Theatre also shows the biggest new releases and art-house or independent cinema release too. Definitely a theatre worth the trip across town for.
Discover the Kiln Theatre on their website
Heading east to Dalston, the Arcola Theatre is based in a former printworks and was opened in 2000. Today the Arcola hosts cutting edge independent theatre and has won awards for the quality of their productions.
Find out whats on and book tickets at the Arcola Theatre Website